August 17, 2019

As steam goes by ... Heritage Matters

Peter has a treasure trove of cassette tapes including a 1982 interview he did with Hartley Trussler, who was a well-known North Bay author and historian. The book The Best of Hartley Trussler’s North Bay, edited by Michael Barnes, is a collection of some of Mr. Trussler’s columns which were published in The North Bay Nugget. 

It was such a thrill to hear this gentleman’s voice once again talking about the past including the CPR and ONR trains in North Bay which he said made North Bay and predicted they would make a comeback.

In fact, said Mr. Trussler, North Bay would not be here except for the CPR which boosted the city and there is no doubt it made us a railroad city.  Everyone worked for and the whole town depended on the CPR. When Mr. Trussler first came to North Bay railway people were VIPs on City Council. The T&NO brought another great boom to the city and this is when most of the big buildings on Main Street were built including the banks in 1908 to 1910. These years were turning points in North Bay’s history.

Mr. Trussler continued however after WW2 the shift was away from railways being the focal industry to it being a government town with the Dept. of Highways and Dept. of Lands and Forests moving in along with the Bell and Hydro. If these had not moved in when the CPR closed up, North Bay would have been flat It was a transition he said but we did not realize it at the time. 

Mr. Trussler said he remembers the old steam engines and their whistles which had individual characters because the engineers had them fired differently to give out power differently. When the diesels came they were just like a truck. The steam engineers and conductors were important people in town, like George Leach, Tom Turner, Jim Fallon.  He said railroad people often bought cars from the Trussler’s North Bay Garage. 

Peter asked him to look ahead 20 years.  Mr. Trussler said the railways will still play a part in North Bay, they will come back and they will be adapted into our city. We are going to need them for commuting passengers and workmen to Callander and back.  There is no doubt transporting by rail is more economical than trucks but maybe not as convenient. 

In Mr. Trussler’s looking down the line 20 years, he also predicted North Bay will continue to grow because we do not have to depend on one industry, little ones will keep coming but he did not see any big industry coming to the city.  He also did not see Main Street changing in the next 20 years.  The Golden Mile will come but not in 20 years. However, he said North Bay has a good future, it is healthy, good place to live and good water in Trout Lake.  It is remarkable how the city has spread e.g. Tower Drive and country people will move back into the city because transportation will be too expensive. The railways will come back in 20 years because highways will be scrapped and the bypass will never be built because of fewer cars.  Streets will be the same but we may have mono rails and cable cars.  He predicted the city would have a population of 75,000 by 2002. 

Also during the interview, Mr. Trussler said in his day, Main Street from Cassells to Wyld Streets was the business part and core of North Bay.  Our family came to North Bay in 1957 and Main Street definitely was impressive.  We saw those big bank buildings, numerous ladies wear shops, especially The Marilee Shop which was often the recipient of my Nugget pay, T.M. Palmer Jewellers,  Kresge’s which  served the best grilled cheese in town, Woolworths, Arcadian Team Room which was always cool on a hot summer’s day and drug stores. I especially remember the Ligget’s Drug Store on the windy corner of Main & Ferguson Streets where I often used to wait for the bus to Ferris after a movie at the Capitol or Odeon Theatres.  

What buildings and businesses do you remember from the past in downtown North Bay?

Pam Handley’s Heritage Matters column is a regular feature in A Bit of the Bay Magazine. Send your comments to [email protected]



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